Accidental Racists, Deliberate Heroes

Why '42' succeeds where Brad Paisley and LL Cool J failed

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Throughout the film, the word "need" is used multiple times by multiple characters, used to reiterate that they need Robinson to succeed and vice versa, a dependence with which Robinson admits he struggles.

Perhaps "42's" most notable mention of "need" in the context of "Accidental Racist" debate comes during a Dodgers game in Cincinnati. Robinson's teammate, Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black)— who is from Kentucky, making this practically home game for him –— asks him how his dealing with the fans' racist taunts. Robinson, with a line that wouldn't have been out of place in Paisley's song, brushes them off as "just a bunch of crackpots still fighting the Civil War." Reese then makes a snide remark about how the South could have won, a comment that seems arrogant and insensitive until the gesture that follows. In front of the booing crowd, many of them Reese's own friends and family, Reese places his arm around Robinson in very public show of affection, much to Robinson's confusion. "I need them to know who I am now," Reese explains, making the point "Accidental Racist" so blatantly misses. Robinson wasn't on the field just because the North won the Civil War, he was on the field because he deserved to be.

"It ain't like you and me can re-write history," sings Paisley. But Robinson playing for the Dodgers was not just about correcting the injustices of the past, but addressing the prejudices of the present.

The struggles depicted in "42" will remind some viewers of the current attention being paid to the absence of an openly gay male athlete on a professional American sports team. Many of the complaints Robinson's teammates make in "42" are identical to the ones a few athletes are currently making about the prospect of one such player. And like Rickey and Robinson, players and coaches behind today's locker room doors are wrestling how and when to take that next giant step for social equality.

The desegregation of baseball was painful, it was necessary and it was deliberate. Whether you are perpetuating it or fighting it, when it comes to prejudice, nothing is accidental.

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